Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 26, 2013

A noteworthy day

Sunday before last, husband Art said he had a surprise for me, and I should leave my day after 3 p.m. open. I was not as appreciative of his intentions as I might have been for I had been running behind in my seemingly never-ending battle to cross things off my to-do list.

But once we were in the car and on the road, I was glad to be away. We were off to Wichita to listen to the Wichita Chorale celebrate the end of its 35th season. An added attraction was friend and former Riley County music-teacher-turned-college-professor Janie Brokenicky was performing in Bach's "Magnificat."

Since it was a surprise for me, he hadn't been able to share the fact that earlier in the week Janie had e-mailed him to say she "hoped she could deliver" as she had been battling something that seemed determined to settle in her throat. Since Janie and husband Cole are expecting an addition to the family soon, the doctor nixed the idea of any medication that might alleviate her throat problem.

We arrived in Wichita and stopped for a bite to eat at a fast-food restaurant where Art informed me where we were going. When we later arrived at the church, I headed for the restroom where I encountered Janie. We had little time to talk, but she mentioned her throat had been bothering her.

Art and I then made our way to the balcony, Art reasoning that picture opportunities would be better from a higher vantage point.

The program was very good, but we were both waiting for the "Magnificat." Neither Art nor I had ever heard the piece based on ancient Christian hymns about a meeting between Mary, the mother of Christ, and her sister Elizabeth.

When the time arrived, about a dozen musicians took their places followed by the four soloists. While I'm inclined to just sit back and enjoy a performance, Art tends to be more critical. Since he was more aware of Janie's problem than I was, he was looking for problems.

Partway into the piece, we both noted that Janie's room-filling voice had been reduced to the strength of the other singers. Art assumed she was purposely holding back in an effort to better control her pitch and tone. No other problems were noted as the piece moved forward.

When it was over, it was obvious why it had been selected to be the last piece. We agreed it was definitely the highlight of the evening.

Once in the lobby, we chatted with Cole as well as Janie's and Cole's parents while we waited for Janie to work her way out to us. Janie's folks were both in music in college and her mother still teaches music. We learned that she had been judging all day and had only arrived in time to hear the second half of the program, including the "Magnificat."

I spotted Janie talking to another couple and pointed her out to Art who immediately headed in her direction. As soon as the couple she had been speaking with left, Janie turned to Art and said, "Oh, that was bad!"

Art was startled. He wasn't certain if she was referring to the performance or something in the conversation with the folks who had just left.

Janie was on the verge of tears when Art said, "The show wasn't bad!"

Janie lowered the tissue she was using to dab away the tears and looked at him intently the way a person does when they have no intention of being contradicted and said, "Oh, that WAS bad!"

Both of us were puzzled. How could her evaluation be so different from our own.

Janie returned to dabbing as her mother and the others arrived. All seemed as taken aback as we were by Janie's state. It was clear that none of them shared her opinion.

When Art mentioned that we had noticed she was not as powerful as normal, Janie replied that she had sung as loudly as she could. She said she knew she couldn't hit certain notes, so was forced to calculate what note she could substitute that would blend with the music. I found it astonishing that she could do that on the spot.

It was late and everyone had a long drive home, so we all left soon after.

Back in our car, Art and I traveled mostly empty streets as we journeyed for home, still puzzling over what had just happened. Sure, her condition probably amplified her emotions. But her assessment seemed so unfounded.

Then Art mentioned something we had heard Gary Mortenson say a few days earlier in a lecture we had attended. Mortenson is the head of the Kansas State University music program and a musician. He said in music, mistakes come in four levels of seriousness. The lowest is when the musician does something wrong, but only he or she is aware of it. The next level is when the conductor is also aware of the error. The third is reached when colleagues realize that something is amiss. The last and most severe is when the audience knows something is wrong.

Janie had known there was a problem, but the audience hadn't. Later, when we looked at Art's close-up pictures, the faces of the musicians revealed no hint that things weren't going well.

Later still, Art told daughter Katie what had happened. Katie is just completing her eighth year in music and her sophomore year as a college music student. She paused for a moment and then commented that it takes good ability to substitute notes in the middle of a piece and have them blend in.

Janie's "bad day" was no where near as bad as she had thought it to be. It had also made us even more appreciative of her abilities than we had been before. All in all, it had been - pun intended - a noteworthy day.

Janie part way through her "bad day."

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